My Tico Heart: Katya De Luisa, Gypsy Living
The three-day seminar was held at the St. John’s hospital in Springfield, Missouri. The fifty participants were medical professionals working in end-of-life care. The techniques I’d developed to improve communication with those with dementia were well received, and even though this was my first multiday seminar, everything went like clockwork.
After the seminar, I followed the road of least resistance, leading me once again to Sarasota, where it felt I had left unfinished business. I wanted to take some time away from work with dementia, so I accepted a live-in housekeeping position for an elderly man living alone. His home was on Siesta Key, an island known for its crystal sand beaches and only a short drive to the city's downtown section. He needed someone to keep house, provide meals and be there in the evenings. There was no stress, excellent pay, use of a vehicle, and private living quarters. It was the perfect respite. Every morning at dawn, I'd walk the beach before fixing breakfast, then tidy the house and be free until lunch. There were no set work hours except for his three meals and being there in the evenings. It was perfect.
My son lived in Venice, a neighboring town, and during this time, my first grandson was born. However, when Max was just a couple of weeks old, Damon had a horrible accident that disfigured his face and required plastic surgeries. Worse yet, suffering from postpartum depression, his wife took the baby and went to live with her mother. He was devastated.
Damon used to describe his growing up as a free-range childhood which pretty well defined my lack of mothering skills. I was there for him throughout the next year of his healing, selling the house, the divorce, and his custody problems. Eventually, his life normalized, and he shared custody of his baby.
I realized my unfinished business had been to heal our relationship.
Around that time, I received another seminar offer from the Smeidling Training Center for Nurses in Arkansas. The travel itch reappeared and gradually became an irresistible pull. In the past, I'd lived coast to coast in the US, but I’d never taken time to just explore the country, so I bought a twenty-foot RV. After turning over my job to a friend, I headed out for Arkansas. At the same time, Willy Nelson's "On the Road Again" coincidentally began playing on the radio.
It was early spring, and my gypsy lifestyle felt perfect. I had a full kitchen, bathroom, an overhead bunk I used for storage, and my rear couch folded out at night. I’d start driving at dawn and look for a place to park by dusk. Often, I’d spend a few days in National Parks and occasionally overnights in Walmart parking lots or at truck stops. The latter provided $5 hot showers and all-you-can-eat breakfast buffets.
Benton, Arkansas, was famous as the home of the Walmart family and crystal mining. I hooked up at the Indian Springs Park and drove each day to the center to conduct the seminars. The next destination was Columbia, Missouri. Another contact I’d met at a conference invited me to conduct workshops at her organization and offered camping space on her farm just outside town.
Columbia is home to the University of Missouri, and they had an eldercare center where I developed a CCT program. Eventually, I moved into town next to the ACCESS ARTS building, a pottery school for the handicapped. I became bosom buddies with the director, Naoma Powell, who was 85 and lived on the premise. She was born in Columbia and had dedicated most of her life to this work. She was also one of the most illustrious characters in Columbia. Mike Cooper was another of those characters, and he offered to let me hook up my RV at his place on the Missouri River. I'd stay at Cooper's Landing on weekends, a famous riverfront spot featuring live Blue Grass music at their weekly Sunday Barbecues. Despite being a vegetarian, I traded cooking the BBQ for an RV hookup with a river view.
My life in Columbia was great until the seasons changed and it got bitterly cold.
So, I headed south to Sedona, Arizona, where the winters were milder. While at the Red Rock State Park, I was offered a volunteer ranger position with a free RV space complete with a landline telephone. Mostly I worked part-time in the gift shop or at the entrance collecting the fee and welcoming visitors.
It was a spectacular place, and from my RV, I had an incredible view of Cathedral Rock, one of the supposed vortex areas. I volunteered three days a week and worked part-time as a home caregiver in town. Eventually, I moved next to a house in the mountains above the city. I hiked the beautiful red rock mountain trails every day. The sunsets were spectacular, and when winter set in, the site of those red mountains partially covered in snow was a sight I'd never forgotten. Town had an array of art galleries and was a metaphysical Disney land of shops offering card readings, vortex tours, crystals, and healings. My favorite shops were the Trading Posts selling Indigenous art, jewelry, and crafting supplies. My personal art took on a Southwest style, and everything about the desert fascinated me.
One day my RV was surrounded by a herd of Javelina, desert wild pigs. Another time, I noticed sitting on my sink a cute gerbil-like animal with huge eyes and oversized ears. However, as he ran off, to my horror, several followed him. I’d been invaded by pinyon mice; worse yet, one was obviously pregnant. Mousetraps eventually ended the invasion, and I spread used cat litter around the outside of the RV to deter further attacks.
In the spring, I left Arizona. While traveling through the high desert mountains of New Mexico, I spent several days at Cloudcroft National Park. One morning while having coffee, I heard a strange sound and saw an animal looking in my window. Upon further inspection discovered my RV surrounded by a herd of enormous Elk; they were bigger than horses!
Next, I stopped overnight in Carlsbad and took a tour of their famous caverns to confront my fear of caves. My group watched from a hillside at dusk as a cloud of millions of bats exited the caves, darkening the sky.
Las Cruces was close to the border town of El Paso. Unlike the mountains of Sedona, it had endless expanses of open desert. I had a friend living in Mesilla, the historic section of town. I parked next to her restored adobe home, walking distance to the Rio Grande River.
The University of New Mexico is in Las Cruces, and like most college towns, a lot was going on. The Day of the Dead was celebrated in every park with events that showcased rows of altars made by locals to honor their dead relatives. I continued offering dementia caregiver training with eldercare organizations, exhibited my SW art in shows and galleries, had space every weekend at the open-air arts & crafts market, and attended many live music venues around town. I fell in love with green chilies and most of the inhabitants, who were an eclectic array of oddball characters; I fit right in.
One of those characters was Lonnie, who I met with a friend in one of the shops. She was a professional storyteller and wore some pretty outlandish costumes to go with her stories. It was natural we would become good friends and to this day we remain in contact. She and her husband had a house in town they were remodeling and I moved there.
One morning, just waking up, something strange happened. I heard a voice saying, “It’s time to go home to Costa Rica now” I was really shocked to discover the voice had been mine.
Up to this point, I’d rarely thought about Costa Rica, but now that's all I could think about. Finally, I gave in and although I was pretty happy in New Mexico, I put a for sale sign in the RV window. It sold in three days which was a miracle because gas was $4 a gallon at the time.
I flew to Sarasota for a couple of weeks, spent some quality time with my son and grandson, then again boarded a plane back again to Pura Vida land.